Melbourne, Australia: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton claimed a record-breaking fourth pole position at the Australian Grand Prix, starting the new Formula One season with a dominant performance in Saturday's qualifying.
Last season's F1 champion driver set a time of 1 minute, 26.327 seconds at the Albert Park circuit, six-tenths of a second faster than teammate Nico Rosberg, as Mercedes locked out the front row.
Mercedes' performance underscored the significant edge the team retains heading into the new season after an all-conquering 2014. Hamilton's time was 1.4 seconds faster than third-place Felipe Massa of Williams — a giant margin in F1 terms.
"It doesn't feel like it's been a long time since the last race," said Hamilton, who became the first driver to win four poles in Australia. "Today we found a good balance. I am massively grateful for all the hard work that has gone in."
Rosberg said he was not too concerned by the wide margin he finished behind his teammate and chief championship rival.
"Lewis was in impressive form today, did an awesome job and nailed it every time," he said. "I didn't get my laps together today. I'm not worried about pace at all. Maybe I can turn it around tomorrow."
Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen qualified in fourth and fifth, ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams. The two teams were closely matched as the best of the rest behind an out-of-reach Mercedes.
"They are in a different category," Massa said of the Mercedes. "It's not great to see this but we will keep working and keep fighting and hope we will get as close as we can."
Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo qualified in seventh as his Red Bull had another day of major problems with its Renault engine, even after his team replaced the power unit during Friday practice.
He was ahead of Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz Jr., who impressed in his debut qualifying session, and the Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado.
It was a day to forget for McLaren — the most successful team in the race's history — as its two cars qualified on the last row of the grid as the team struggles with its new Honda engine.